Back in November 2017, no one suggested that the Rotary Year of 2020-21 would begin with a pandemic in place, disrupting everyday life around the world. As a newly-minted Rotary District Governor Nominee Designate (next-next-next in line), thought about a lot of different things. I wondered whether I could balance the needs of family, work and Rotary, whether I'd be up to the task of speaking to all of the Clubs in our District, whether the promise of Past District Governors that my wife and I would enjoy meeting Rotarians around the world and make new friends would hold true, whether Rotary would finally have a female International President by the time I was Governor, or perhaps even in the year I served.
Rotary provides an incredibly long lead-up in preparation for the District Governor position. I engaged in training programs throughout our Zone over the next two-and-a-half years. This took me to Erie, PA, and Overland Park, Kansas, for Zone meetings. Along with my District Governor classmates, we discussed the important topics of membership, foundation, public image and branding of Rotary, leadership, diversity, public speaking, conflict management, and team-building. All great topics that increased our knowledge of Rotary, and got us thinking like Rotary leaders.
In January of 2020, the final preparations came as District Governors from around the world assembled in San Diego for a week-long conference, and we received more and better of the same. Through these training events, we heard from and got to meet first-hand many Rotary leaders, including current, past and future RI Presidents, Directors, Foundation Trustees, Zone leaders, and other dignitaries. We heard inspirational speeches from people within and from outside of Rotary.
Even in January, when talk of COVID-19 breakouts in China were in the daily news, we did not intentionally prepare for a pandemic and a shut down of our schools, our businesses, and our Rotary activities.
We did talk about Rotary's strategic plan, which includes the objective of increasing our ability to adapt. Even in early March, when we were able to hold our Presidents-Elect Training with a few hundred Club Presidents-to-be in attendance, we did not think to talk about what would happen (as it did within ten days) if our meeting places were shuttered and we were told to stay home.
Our reaction as a District
to the shutdown in March was great. Our District leaders, starting with DG debi Ross, found ways to keep our Rotarians engaged and our Clubs active. We came up with new ways of meeting, and scrambled to take full advantage of what Rotary and its Foundation offered to help our communities locally and globally.
The training we received paid off. We knew where to access funds, whom to contact, and how to find partners for our projects. COVID disaster grants and global grants were processed quickly and projects implemented even faster. I found that I had made many connections through the build-up towards 2020-21 that paid off with shared ideas, collaboration on projects, and mutual support.
Most of our Clubs have found ways to stay engaged with their members in the pandemic, online at first and then slowly in person, some outdoors and others indoors at a distance.
Todays mark the end of July and my first month of service as District Governor. We have challenges ahead, certainly. The pandemic promises to stick around, likely for this entire Rotary Year. We are adapting while still carrying out the plans hatched over two years. We still intend to grow Rotary this year in our District, attracting new Rotarians and Rotaractors to our existing Clubs and hopefully adding some new ones.
In July, we launched a new effort to support Rotarians in their businesses, occupations and professions with The Rotary Network
. This was a joint effort led by local Rotarians with District support, support from Rotary International, and in collaboration with District 6440. Although inspired by the need to respond to COVID-19, it promises to be a long-term benefit to Rotarians, and is consistent with our message of Making Membership Meaningful for Rotarians.
In July, we prepared in earnest, with our District leaders immersed in online programs hosted by our Zone leaders.
With our excellent group of assistant governors, we began our Clubs visits, and already a quarter are complete. Half have been virtual visits via Zoom, and the other half in person. Fortunately, the Clubs meeting in person are all taking the recommended precautions for social distancing. Both types of meetings have been enjoyable, and it is important for a Governor to hear first-hand from Rotarians about their projects and their concerns.
We have reached out to our small number of existing Rotaract Clubs, recognizing Rotaract's newly-elevated status in Rotary, and offered District support and opportunities on the District level. We expect that we will add new Rotaract Clubs this year, and that they will be more vibrant and sustainable than the ones that have come and gone over the last decade.
August is membership development and new club month on the Rotary calendar, and we can expect an emphasis on that in the coming weeks.
So far, the time has flown by, as every day fills with visits, online meetings, phone calls and emails. So far, so good. This virus won't keep us down.